I still fondly recall where my love for horses – especially black ones – originated. I remember the day my grandmother very excitedly introduced me to Black Beauty and The Black Stallion (the movies). The black steeds looked so majestic, powerful, and magical on the big screen. And in real life, these descriptive words still ring true.
There are various horse breeds with horses that have black coats. I’ve compiled a detailed guide on the different types of black horses, what’s a true black horse, interesting facts and myths about these horses, and famous black horses.
My Best Black Horse Breed Up Front
Various horse breeds have horses with true black or non-true black coats, and only a few breeds that only have black-coated horses. With crossbreeding, other colored coats have been introduced to most of these “used to be all-black breeds.”
My best black horse breed is the Friesian. I love a true black Friesian stallion that looks noble and simply beautiful.
What Is a Black Horse?
A black horse is a horse that has a black colored coat. Black is one of the four basic coat colors a horse can have; the other basic coat colors are chestnut (reddish-brown body with no black points), brown, and bay (reddish-brown body with black points). The points on a horse are the mane, tail, ear tips, and lower legs.
But it gets a lot more technical than a black horse having a black coat.
A true black horse has a black coat and black mane, tail, lower legs, and ear tips (aka black points). The true black also needs to have black skin.
A true black may have a white marking like a snip or star on their face or a white marking on their legs, but a Friesian horse may have no white markings at all. (White markings on Friesian result in a lower graded registered horse.)
These true black horses should have a solid black coat that doesn’t have any reddish or brownish hair that you can see when the horse is standing in the sunlight. These horses typically have dark brown eyes. True black horses can have faded (or fading) black coats or non-fading black coats to make it even more complicated. There’s no difference between fading and non-fading coats, genetically speaking.
When fading black horses (also known as barn black horses) spend too much time in the sun or sweat a lot, their coats can turn brown or reddish-brown. Preserve a fading black horse’s coat by keeping them out of the hot sun, rinsing sweat off immediately, feeding them well, and blanketing them with a day sheet.
A fading black foal is usually born with a light brown, dark bay, or smokey coat. Non-fading black horses (also known as jet black or raven horses) are less commonly found than their barn black counterparts. The non-fading foals are born with smokey black or gray baby coats, and once they start shedding, their blue-black coat shows up.
A black horse with a black coat, possible black points, and unpigmented skin is not a true black. Non-true black horses with solid black coats can have pink or white skin with white markings and blue eyes.
A black bay horse isn’t a black-coated horse. However, many people mistakenly think a black bay horse is a black horse variety because their coats are so dark (almost black) and they have black points. Their muzzle and flanks, however, are generally brown.
However, black bays have an agouti gene.
Dark brown horses may appear to have black coats. But the lighter hair found around their flanks, muzzles, and eyes distinguish them from black horses.
The Genes of a Black Horse
Without getting too sciency about why a black horse is black, I’d like to briefly cover the genes of a black horse. Two loci or positions on the horse genome are called the extension (E) and agouti (A) and these control a horse’s most basic coat colors. A white horse is devoid of color, so every other colored horse will have a red or black base color. The A and E genes determine whether a horse will be black, bay, or chestnut.
The extension gene (the black gene) is either homozygous (EE or ee) or heterozygous (Ee). The capital “E” is dominant and responsible for black pigments. At the same time, the small “e” is recessive and responsible for red pigments in a horse’s coat.
If a horse has a black coat, they need to have a minimum of one dominant allele of the extension genotype (Ee or EE). A true black horse will have a dominant extension gene with no agouti genes to dilute the “blackness” of the coat or recessive genes.
If you breed black horses, here’s what color offspring you can expect:
|Horse Parent 1||Horse Parent 2||Offspring (Foal)||Coat Color of the Foal|
|EE||Ee||EE or Ee||True black or non-true black|
|Ee||Ee||EE or Ee or ee||True black or non-true black or red (chestnut)|
|Ee||EE||EE or Ee||True black or non-true black|
It gets more complicated if you add the agouti gene that controls the base color or factor in where the base color shows up in the horse’s genes. The dominant “A” allele is responsible for black points. In contrast, the recessive “a” allele is responsible for the black pigment expressed on the horse’s body.
The agouti gene determines whether a horse is a black or bay, provided the horse has EE or Ee genotypes. A black horse will be homozygous with a genotype of Eaa.
8 Interesting Facts About Black Horses
The allure and majesty of black horses never end. Here are some interesting facts about these horses:
- When taking a horse’s temperature, black horses are hotter because their skin bakes in the sun.
- Depending on what genes a black mare in foal has, you could be in for a surprise. You could get a black-coated foal or a red/chestnut foal.
- A black foal can have two dark bay parents (theoretically). However, two true black horses can’t breed a bay foal.
- In 1969, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police gifted a black mare named Burmese to Queen Elizabeth II. The Queen rode the horse for nearly two decades during the Trooping the Color ceremonies.
- One of the most famous black horses is a fictional horse. The horse is one of the main characters in Walter Farley’s novel, The Black Stallion, which has been adapted into a movie. From publishing in 1941 until the author’s death in 1989, it’s estimated that over 12 million copies of the book have been sold.
- Black Beauty, the classic kid’s book by Anna Sewell, has sold more than 50 million copies since it was published in 1877.
Four black thoroughbred racing horses have won the Kentucky Derby:
- Black Gold, a thoroughbred, was a Hall of Fame entrant and won the Kentucky Derby in 1924. The horse was also one of the main characters of Marguerite Henry’s 1957 book, Black Gold.
- Halma won the Kentucky Derby in 1895.
- George Smith won the Derby in 1916.
- Flying Ebony won the Kentucky Derby in 1925.
The Ariègeois (now known as the Mérens) is one of the oldest black horse breeds. Historians believe that the Ariègeois are the ancestor of Friesian horses and the Dales Pony.
4 Common Myths About Black Horses
There are various myths about black horses; here are the four most common ones I’d like to dispel:
Myth 1: Black Horses Are Extremely Rare
Black horses are not extremely rare. True, you don’t see them everywhere, so they are pretty uncommon. Luckily, black horses are not yet endangered.
Myth 2: Black Horses Are Aggressive
Black horses are believed to be aggressive and wild, and stories like The Black Stallion exacerbate these kinds of myths. Nothing about black horses (in their genes or elsewhere) determines their aggressiveness.
Every horse is unique, and I know a Friesian stallion that is as sweet as he can be fiery.
Myth 3: There Are No Black Thoroughbreds
True black thoroughbreds aren’t common, but there are black thoroughbreds. Several black thoroughbred racing horses have won the Kentucky Derby.
Myth 4: Friesians Are Always Black
Friesians do not always have black coats. Friesians are black in the studbook registry, and only a small star white marking is allowed. And in many of the main Friesian horse registries, only purebred Friesians are eligible for registration.
However, there are dark bay, dark brown, and true black Friesian horses. With selective breeding, breeders try to minimize the white markings in these horses.
17 Black Horse Breeds (aka Horse Breeds with Black Coats)
Here are the best black horse breeds, or the terminology I instead prefer: horse breeds with black coats.
- Common Coat Colors: All black, but sometimes dark bay and dark brown
- Height: 15-17 hands
- Weight: 1,200-1,450 pounds
Friesians, also called Belgian Blacks, originated from Friesland (the Netherlands). These noble-looking horses are known for their true black coats, long flowing manes and tails, and high-stepping gait. As a result of selective breeding, there are some dark bay and dark brown Friesians.
These horses were used for farm work or as war horses in the past. These days, Friesians are commonly found in the show ring and movies and TV shows like Interview with the Vampire, Games of Thrones, and the Zorro films.
- Common Coat Colors: All black
- Height: 14-15 hands
- Weight: 770-880 pounds
Murgese horses are related to Arab and Barb horses but originate from Italy’s Apulia region. This almost all-black horse breed is tall, elegant, versatile, and hardy. Murgese stallions are quite well-mannered, and horses of this breed are easy-going.
The breed is still used for farmwork in Italy, and elsewhere, the Murgese is a popular horse in cross-country riding and trekking.
3. Fell Pony
- Common Coat Colors: Black, brown, bay, and gray
- Height: 13-14.2 hands
- Weight: 700-900 pounds
Fell ponies are native to northern England, and they were used for farm work and as pack horses during the Viking times. These ponies may have inspired the legends of the kelpies and are related to the Dales pony breed.
They are sought-after for their thick, wavy, and flowing manes and tales. Fell ponies are commonly used for trekking and competitive driving.
- Common Coat Colors: Black and gray
- Height: 15.3-16.3 hands
- Weight: 1,100-1,322 pounds
The Kladruber horse breed is the oldest horse breed in the Czech Republic, and it’s one of the oldest breeds in the world.
Kladrubers were initially bred for carriage usage during official events. These days, Kladruber horses are commonly found in equine-assisted therapy, leisure riding, as police mounts, and feature in many equestrian disciplines like dressage.
5. Dales Pony
- Common Coat Colors: Black, brown, and gray
- Height: 14-14.2 hands
- Weight: 800-1,000 pounds
Dales ponies are native to the northern mountainous regions of England. They are a rare breed with only 5,000 registered Dale ponies. They are well-known for their stamina, strength, and kind temperament. The ponies were used as pit ponies to pull heavy loads from underground mines, but these days, they are ideal for new riders and kids, trekking, and driving.
- Common Coat Colors: Black
- Height: 14.1-15.1 hands
- Weight: 880-1,100 pounds
Mèrens horses are native to the Pyrenees and Ariègeois region in France. Because they are sure-footed, this true black horse breed is great for trail rides and competitive carriage driving. They were used as farm horses, pack horses, and war horses by the French cavalry.
- Common Coat Colors: Black and gray
- Height: 15-19 hands
- Weight: 1,900-2,600 pounds
The Percheron is an agile and elegant French draft horse, even though it’s tall and heavy. They were initially used as war horses, and Percherons served during WWI. Percherons became popular for farm and wagon work.
The calm breed is used as police mounts, in equine competitions, and for farm and forestry work.
8. American Quarter Horse
- Common Coat Colors: Black, sorrel, chestnut, gray, bay, smokey black, and 17 other official colors
- Height: 14.3-16 hands
- Weight: 950-1,200 pounds
The American quarter horse is an American horse breed. The black-coated quarter horse is one of the 23 official colors. In the 1994 Black Beauty movie, Docs Keepin Time, a registered American quarter horse, played the role of Black Beauty.
These horses are named after their ability to run faster than other breeds over a quarter-mile. They have an easily trainable disposition, making them versatile for riding, showing, and ranch work.
- Common Coat Colors: Bay and sorrel, but sometimes black, gray, pinto, palomino, and roan
- Height: 14-15 hands
- Weight: 800-1,000 pounds
The Mustang horse symbolizes the American Wild West. This horse breed was popularized by movies like Wild Horse Annie and Spirit.
Mustang horses are a versatile breed, and they are great for trail riding because of their strong hooves.
- Common Coat Colors: Gray and bay; less than 5% are black
- Height: 15.1-16.2 hands
- Weight: 900-1,100 pounds
Andalusians are native to the Iberian Peninsula and considered an official horse breed since the 15th century. These horses were used as war horses and for diplomatic missions by the Spanish government. About 80% of Andalusian horses are gray, 15% are bays, and 5% are black chestnut, dun, or palomino.
These days, Andalusians are used in movies set during medieval times, fantasy films like The Lord of the Rings trilogy, exhibitions, show jumping, dressage, and other equestrian events.
- Common Coat Colors: Black, bay, chestnut, and gray
- Height: 15-16 hands
- Weight: 900-1,100 pounds
The Lusitano horse breed originates from Portugal and is related to the Andalusian breed. These horses are known for their speed, and these days, they are used for bullfighting, dressage, and driving.
- Common Coat Colors: Black, roan, gray, chestnut, and bay
- Height: 14-16 hands
- Weight: 800-1,100 pounds
After reading The Black Stallion, every child dreamt of owning a black Arabian horse. This horse breed is used for various equestrian disciplines, from Western riding to dressage, but they excel at endurance racing.
- Common Coat Colors: Black, bay, and chestnut
- Height: 14.1-15.2 hands
- Weight: 900-1,100 pounds
The Morgan horse’s origins can be traced back to the 19th century, making it one of the oldest horse breeds native to the USA. Morgans were used for pulling carriages and riding. These horses were used by the cavalry troops during the American Civil War.
A black coat is common for these versatile horses that perform well in various equestrian riding disciplines. Morgan horses are great therapy horses too because of their gentle nature.
14. Peruvian Paso
- Common Coat Colors: Black, bay, palomino, buckskin, gray, roan, dun, and chestnut
- Height: 14-15 hands
- Weight: 900-1,100 pounds
As their name suggests, the Peruvian Paso horses are native to Peru. This horse breed results from selective breeding, with their ancestors being horses from Spain, Jamaica, Panama, and other Central American countries.
Peruvian Pasos with a solid coat is highly prized. This breed is notable for its interesting smooth gait, making Peruvian Pasos ideal for endurance riding. These horses are also used in parades, shows, and for pleasure riding.
15. Tennessee Walking
- Common Coat Colors: Black, bay, chestnut, brown, roan, gray, yellow, and pure white
- Height: 14.3-17 hands
- Weight: 900-1,200 pounds
The Tennessee Walking horse is an all-American horse also called the Tennessee Walker. In the late 18th century, breeders cross-bred Canadian and Narrangansett Pacers with Spanish Mustangs to produce the Tennessee Walking breed.
The horse breed is well-known for its running-walk four-beat gait, which is faster than a normal horse walk. The Tennessee Walker can walk 10-20 miles per hour, while other horses normally walk 4-8 miles per hour.
The Tennessee Walking horse is ideal for trail riding and the show ring.
- Common Coat Colors: Black, bay, chestnut, gray, roan, and pinto
- Height: 15-17 hands
- Weight: 1,000-1,200 pounds
The Trakehner horse breed traces its 1792 origins to a Trakehnen stud farm in east Prussia. Trakehners look like thoroughbreds because of their athletic bodies.
These horses are ideal for the show ring, dressage, show jumping, and cross-country events.
17. Irish Draft
- Common Coat Colors: Black, white, brown, dun, cremello, palomino, champagne, perlino, roan, and grullo
- Height: 15-17 hands
- Weight: 1,300-1,500 pounds
The Irish draft horse originated in Ireland in the 18th century, as their name suggests. These horses were used as farm horses because they are strong and make great travel companions. Nowadays, Irish drafts are used as police mounts in the UK or for those who need a hunting or pleasure-riding horse.
Irish draft horses were used in the development of the Irish Sport Horse.
Famous Black Horses
Here are some of the famous historical black horses. I’m sharing information about five actual horses and two fictional horses.
The most famous black horse, called Bucephalus, belonged to Alexander the Great. Legend has it that this huge black stallion wasn’t tamable until a young Alexander met the horse. Alexander turned the horse to the sun, so the horse’s shadow and fear were behind him.
Historians believe that taming the wild horse was a turning point in Alexander’s life. His father, King Philip II of Macedon, told young Alexander to find a kingdom that was equal and worthy of him since Macedon (or Macedonia) was too small. This speech and Bucephalus gave him the determination and confidence to conquer parts of western Asia and northeastern Africa.
Bucephalus was stolen or kidnapped by the Persians, so Alexander threatened to destroy Persia and kill all its citizens unless his horse was returned to him at once. The Persians didn’t hesitate, and soon, Alexander the Great was reunited with his trusty steed.
The horse died in 326 BC. Historians disagree on the cause of Bucephalus’ death: it was either battle wounds from Alexander’s last battle at Hydaspes or old age. Nevertheless, the city of Bucephala (now Punjab, Pakistan) was founded in the horse’s honor.
Another famous black horse in history is Black Hawk. This horse was born in 1833. He was the first American stallion to receive $100 as a stud fee. Black Hawk was a trotting horse. One of his owners, Benjamin Thurston of Lowell, said that he regularly rode the horse for 50 miles in half a day and once rode Black Hawk for 63 miles in 7 hours and 15 minutes.
He is the ancestral sire of around 80% of the Morgan horses and many saddlebreds and standardbred horses.
One of the sires of the Tennessee Walking Horse was Midnight Sun, a descendent of Black Hawk. Midnight Sun was born in 1940. He was a World Grand Champion for two consecutive years.
Black Jack was named after John J “Black Jack” Pershing (a senior US Army officer). The black horse served in the 3rd US Infantry Regiment’s Caisson Platoon and was one of the last horses the US Army Quartermaster issued.
Black Jack was a riderless horse. Boots were reversed in his stirrups to symbolize a fallen leader. The brands on Black Jack were a US brand and an army serial number. The horse is most famous for his part in the funeral procession of John F Kennedy. Black Jack was also part of Herbert Hoover’s, Douglas MacArthur’s, Lyndon Johnson’s state funerals, and countless others.
Black Jack died in 1976. He is one of those horses (the other was Comanche) honored with a military funeral. The horse was laid to rest at Fort Myer in Virginia. After Black Jack died in 1976, he was cremated and laid to rest at Fort Myer, Virginia.
Byerley Turk was foaled in 1680 and died in 1706. He is one of the three stallions (the others are Godolphin Arabian and Darley Arabian) that’s considered to have founded the modern thoroughbred bloodstock.
The Black Stallion probably needs no introduction. In case you don’t know, the Back Stallion is the wild horse in Walter Farley’s The Black Stallion series and the 1979 movie adaptation and 1983 sequel.
Black Beauty is another famous fictional black horse that is one of the main characters in the 1877 novel, called Black Beauty, by Anna Sewell. The novel is one of the best children’s books of all time.
Anna wanted to emphasize the inhumane treatment of horses in her book. It’s believed that Black Beauty was instrumental in the abolishment of bearing reins (checkreins or overcheck reins) on hard-working carriage horses.
It’s been adapted to several movies and animations (1921, 1933, 1946, 1971, 1978, 1987, 1994, 2005, 2015, and 2020) and miniseries (1978).
Answer: Black horses or foals are not typically born with a black coat. These foals generally have a mousy gray, silvery, smoky, or tannish coat with a dorsal stripe. Their manes and tails are black. Once they start shedding their first coat at 3-4 months of age, the black coat that started growing appears and the dorsal stripe will disappear. The reason is that the lighter or dull coat helps camouflage the foals from predators in the wild. However, black breed foals are rarely born with a jet black coat.
Answer: If you want a black foal, one of the parent horses needs to have a black or brown coat or a coat with black points. Here are some scenarios for breeding a black foal:
• If you breed two homozygous black horses (they have two copies of the same gene; black is dominant and there’s no recessive red gene), the foal will have a solid black coat.
• If you breed one homozygous black horse with another colored horse, the foal may have a solid black coat or it can have black points.
• If you breed a heterozygous black horse (they carry one copy of the same gene; one dominant black gene and one recessive red gene) with another colored horse, you have an even smaller chance of black foal since the foal has a 50% chance of having black points and a 50% chance of having no black points.
• If you breed a heterozygous black stallion with a homozygous chestnut mare, you have a 50% chance of getting a heterozygous black foal and a 50% chance of a homozygous chestnut foal.
• Breeding a heterozygous black stallion with a heterozygous bay mare results in a 50% chance of a heterozygous black foal, 25% chance of a chestnut foal, and 25% chance of bay foal.
• Breeding a heterozygous black stallion with a cream gene and a chestnut mare with a creme gene results in only a 6% chance of a black foal, 6% chance of a smokey black foal, 25% chance of a palomino or chestnut foal, and 19% chance of a bay or buckskin foal.
Answer: True black thoroughbreds aren’t the norm, and these horses are rare. People do, however, think that a dark bay or dark chestnut thoroughbred (or another horse breed) is a black horse.
My Final Thoughts on Black Horses
Few horses invoke the feeling of magic and majesty like a true black horse does. And that’s one of the reasons why you and I will continue to be enthralled by black horses like the Friesians. There are a few true black horse breeds. With selective breeding, black-coated horses are found in various horse breeds like the Morgan, Arabian, Percheron, and American Quarter horse.
- Friesians will always be a firm black horse favorite of mine. What is your favorite black horse breed?
- Wondering about how long horses live? Then check out our detailed guide on horse lifespans.
- Or maybe you’d like to learn about bay horses or the fastest horses of all time?